Editorial: Fairer SAT is still a teen ordeal

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The College Board has announced the first significant changes in years to the SAT college admissions exam. Many of the tweaks make sense -- tying questions more closely to subject matter learned in high school, getting rid of obscure vocabulary words in favor of those more commonly used in classes, using historical documents in reading passages, and eliminating the penalty for incorrect answers.

The changes might produce a fairer exam, but they are unlikely to reduce the suffocating pressure felt by teen test-takers or quell the heated debate about the SAT's role in the college admissions process.

Local admissions officers say a student's high school grades and the toughness of his or her curriculum are better predictors of college success than standardized test scores. SAT scores are used after that analysis as a kind of equalizer. Since that happens to greater degree at elite universities inundated with similar-looking applications from outstanding students across the country, SAT scores have become an obsession -- including for the many Long Island students who aspire to those schools. That's not likely to diminish with the board's tweaks.

By offering free online tutoring, the board also is trying to blunt the advantage enjoyed by affluent students who hire private tutors. It's a noteworthy attempt, but one that might have little significant impact. And the board's move to make the dreaded essay optional is oddly timed, given that employers are prioritizing communication skills above most other qualities.

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The SAT clearly has problems, with more students opting to take its competitor, the ACT. Whether the new changes are really a business decision to address that trend is less important than the fact they are unlikely to alter in any substantial way the high-pressure, high-stakes ritual endured by millions of American teens.

That's too bad.

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